Sign up for newsletter
 

Opry star Jim Ed Brown dies

Thursday, June 11, 2015 – Country Hall of Fame member-elect and Grand Ole Opry member Jim Ed Brown, 81, died on Thursday in Franklin, Tenn. from cancer.

Brown, who released an album in January, was a star of the Opry for more than 50 years. He enjoyed hits as a solo artist, as a duet singer and as a member of The Browns with sisters Maxine and Bonnie. The Browns' 1959 crossover hit "The Three Bells" led Billboard's country chart for 10 straight weeks, and it spent four weeks at number one on Billboard's all-genre singles chart.

James Edward Brown was born April 1, 1934, in Sparkman, Ark. He spent the first decade of his life on a farm, without electricity or running water. On Saturday nights, the family would tune a battery-operated radio to WSM-AM (650) and listen to the Opry. As a teenager, Brown would mimic the vocal styles of Opry stars. In 1952, Maxine entered him into a talent competition at KLRA radio in Little Rock.

He didn't win, but was asked back to appear on the station's Barnyard Frolic show. Soon, he invited Maxine to sing with him on the Frolic, and their harmonies impressed touring musician Wayne Raney, who talked up the Browns to record labels. In 1954, they signed with Abbott Records and recorded their first Top 10 country hit, "Looking Back to See," which they wrote. Bonnie Brown soon joined her siblings, and the duo became a trio.

As The Browns, they enjoyed top 20 country hits with "Here Today and Gone Tomorrow," "I Take the Chance," "Just As Long As You Love Me," "Money," "I Heard the Bluebirds Sing," "Would You Care" and "Beyond the Shadow."

By 1959, however, the Browns considered calling it quits. Jim Ed Brown's service in the U.S. Army and the sisters' family lives interfered with their music, and Brown was running his father's sawmill.

The Browns, then signed to RCA, told producer Chet Atkins that they were thinking of quitting, but Atkins asked them to come to Nashville and record again.

"Chet asked if there was anything we wanted to do that we hadn't recorded," Brown said. "We told him about a song called 'The Three Bells' that we sang coming from Pine Bluff to Nashville. We recorded it, and after the session Chet said, 'You kids may think you're about to retire, but I think you've just recorded the biggest song we've ever done.'"

Brown was driving a truck in Arkansas in 1959 when he parked, walked into a drive-in to buy a Coca-Cola, and heard "The Three Bells" playing on the radio. The song resonated with country and pop audiences and ensured that Mr. Brown need not retire.

The Browns joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1963, on the strength of "The Three Bells" and follow-ups including "Scarlet Ribbons (for Her Hair)," "The Old Lamplighter" and "Send Me the Pillow You Dream On." But in 1967, Maxine and Bonnie decided to retire.

Jim Ed Brown stayed in Nashville as a solo artist on RCA, and he recorded his signature solo song in 1967 with "Pop a Top," a number 3 country single.

From 1967 through 1974, Brown also reached the Top Ten of the country charts with singles "Morning," "Southern Loving," "Sometime Sunshine" and "It's That Time of Night." In 1976, he began recording duets with Helen Cornelius, logging a number 1 country hit with "I Don't Want to Have to Marry You." With Cornelius, Mr. Brown won a CMA Vocal Duo of the Year award and reached country's Top 10 with "Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye," "If the World Ran Out of Love Tonight," "Lying in Love with You," Fools" and "Morning Comes Too Early."

Brown hosted on the Opry and on numerous television programs. He oversaw shows including the syndicated Nashville on the Road and The Country Place and The Nashville Network's You Can Be a Star and Going Our Way. In 2003, he began hosting syndicated radio program, Country Music Greats Radio Show.

In September 2014, Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer. While he was undergoing treatments, Plowboy Records released "In Style Again," his Brown's first solo effort in 40 years. Fellow Opry stars Vince Gill and Sharon and Cheryl White joined him on the album. In March, Mr. Brown and The Browns were elected along with Grady Martin and The Oak Ridge Boys as the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. "Fame is fleeting, hit records change every week, award show winners and nominees change every year, but being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame will be forever," Mr. Brown said, in response to receiving country music's highest honor.

The Browns' official induction will come in October, but CMA CEO Sarah Trahern, Country Music Hall of Famer Bill Anderson, and Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young visited Brown in the hospital on June 4 to present him with a medallion commemorating his Hall of Fame membership.

"I've always loved to sing," Brown said. "My grandmother nicknamed me 'Jaybird,' because I'd go around singing all the time. I've gone through some hard times, but some good times, too. If push comes to shove, I'll do it again."

CD reviews for Jim Ed Brown

In Style Again CD review - In Style Again
Jim Ed Brown never went out of style, and he proves it emphatically on this new album. Although this is his first solo album in 30 years, he's never been out of the spotlight, making frequent appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and reminding audiences with his smooth style of classic country music and his immediately recognizable voice that he's a master stylist. Produced by Brown's old friend Don Cusic, who wrote 6 of the 13 songs, "In Style Again" ranges over almost »»»
Editorial: Walking the talk – When names like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Waylon and the Hag are invoked, you're talking hard core country. These are the touchstones of country , the guys who made country music what it was and still is (or maybe can be). When these folks would sing about being down-and-out and the rough-and-tumble, they knew of what they were singing about. Fast forward a few years to the country singers of today. »»»
Concert Review: Kristofferson gives insight, but no easy answers – When they say music gets better with age, they're not always just talking about songs alone; sometimes they're also referring to the listener. When Kris Kristofferson sings, "Well, I woke up Sunday morning/With no way to hold my head that didn't hurt," to smartly open "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," he... »»»
Concert Review: No sugarcoating, Welch dishes out an experience – Gillian Welch (accompanied, as always, by master guitarist David Rawlings), celebrated her "The Harrow & The Harvest" album with a powerful night of music. She apologized many times for the utter unhappiness expressed through this album's songs, admitting it's "not the most chipper album" at one point.... »»»
Subscribe to Country News Digest Country News Digest      Follow Country Standard Time on twitter CST      Visit Country Standard Time on Facebook CST

Elsewhere in the news

Currently at the CST blogs

Hillman bides his time Legends don't come any more legendary than Chris Hillman. The roll call of bands that comprises Hillman's half century in music reads like a wing exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas, the Souther Hillman Furay Band, the Desert Rose Band,... »»»
The Cadillac Three creates its "Legacy" William Shakespeare noted a few centuries back that a rose by any other name would be equally aromatic, and that general idea has musical implications as well. The Cadillac Three knows a thing or two about maintaining a sonic identity after a name change;... »»»
With Stanley and Watson, sound isn't elementary Those aware of the late Owsley "Bear" Stanley likely know him for one of two reasons - his pioneering work manufacturing lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in San Francisco during the mid-to-late 1960s and his role as an innovative sound engineer. Most notably, Bear worked...... »»»
May shifts gears, directions Headed into 2015, Imelda May was on a hit streak. Her rockabilly career was in full swing, nurtured by the likes of former Squeeze keyboardist Jools Holland and guitar icon Jeff Beck. Her albums routinely topped the charts in her native Ireland.... »»»
Lane assumes mantle of "Highway Queen" For most artists, eight years is a fair amount of time in their careers. For Nikki Lane, eight years represents the entirety of her recorded history, and she's filled that relatively short time span with a highlight reel of impressive accomplishments, not the least of which would be actually... »»»
The Avett Brothers come home to MerleFest For The Avett Brothers, MerleFest is a coming home of sorts. This year's edition of the MerleFest "traditional-plus" music festival in Wilkesboro, N.C., the event's 30th anniversary, a milestone...... »»»
When Was the Last Time CD review - When Was the Last Time
Darius Rucker is so darn likeable, he likely gets away with creating subpar music more than most. However, "When Was the Last Time" is a consistently good album, which is as respectable as it is likeable. »»»
Losing Sleep CD review - Losing Sleep
Chris Young has one of the best country voices, and it's always a pleasure to hear him sing. But it's disappointing when the title cut sounds more like the groove to a Justin Bieber song than anything truly country.  »»»
A Long Way From Your Heart CD review - A Long Way From Your Heart
The name Turnpike Troubadours suggests traveling music. Strap yourself in and get ready for an exhilarating ride. This Oklahoma-based roots-rock unit soars on its fourth release. Not to diminish the strong songwriting from leader Evan Felker, it's the band's pulsating musicianship with an array of electric instruments combined with fiddle and pedal steel that makes the sound so arresting. »»»
First Cigarette CD review - First Cigarette
The stunning vocal of Travis Meadows on the opening track, "Sideways," brims with honesty, pain and hard-earned wisdom as he offers a blend of confession and advice, stimulated by an experience at an adolescent addiction treatment center. Meadows, like many, is one of those Nashville songwriters ("Riser" for Dierks Bentley and "What We Ain't Got" for Jake Owen), but is finding his own voice relatively late in life. »»»
The Long Awaited Album CD review - The Long Awaited Album
When last we visited a new album from Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers, 2011's "Rare Bird Alert," we found a cohesive, focused collection of bluegrass; it was an expansive, artistic creation that only benefited the bluegrass community. A subsequent live album (strikingly entitled "Live") presented a continued refinement of this pairing's chemistry.  »»»
Bidin' My Time CD review - Bidin' My Time
With all the memorable music Chris Hillman created with The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and Desert Rose Band, he has nothing left to prove. He's a both a bona fide rock and country icon. Tom Petty, who owes an obvious debt to Hillman's...  »»»